7 Tips for Creative Success


I wrote this for my students. I think it’s worth posting here.

Seems self evident but this is the most important one. Perseverance is critical to success. In my years of working and teaching I’ve seen a lot of artists come and go. Often the most talented ones fall by the wayside to those who might have less talent but make up for it in tenacity. They simply work harder and get their work out there. They replace ability with hard work.
Thomas Edison says genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If you work hard it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch onto things. When you can’t create you can simply work. Steve Jobs said creativity is just connecting things. But you have to work.
Brian Eno says the point about working hard is not to produce great stuff all the time but to remain ready for it when you can.
In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell mentions that people usually invest 10,000 hours into their field before becoming successful. Chuck Close says “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work”. Thomas Edison said “Success is the product of the severest kind of mental and physical application”. And EB White said “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.
Finally Neil Gaiman famously advised to “keep moving because perfection is like chasing the horizon”
(In theory when someone commissions me, they don’t just pay for 2 days of my time, they pay for 2 days and 30 years!)

Move forward through the discomfort. Master the insecurity or as Jad Abumrad points out, make friends with the “gut churn”
Sir Ken Robinson tells us that many highly talented brilliant creative people think they’re not….because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued. Some in the creative fields may have been discouraged by their parents. Still others suffer from a very real thing that runs rampant in educated people. It’s called “imposter syndrome”. The clinical definition is a “Psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments”…it makes you feel like a phoney, an imposter.
But…master designer Milton Glaser says that doubt is better than certainty!
And the great painter Georgia O’Keefe wrote “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do”
Anais Nin said that great art is “born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”
Think of it this way…a run back must often be allowed, in order to lake a longer leap forward. Feelings of rejection can actually be a dramatic boost to help us access our creative selves.
The great educator Sir Ken Robinson says “If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original”

Surround yourself with what you love. Fill your brain with good things, Be selective. Austin Kleon says that we are a mashup of what we let into our lives. A major bottleneck to success is worrying about how others perceive us.
Milton Glaser even relates this idea to people. He says …’Avoid toxic people! There is a test…after you have spent some time with somebody observe if you feel drained or energized. If it’s the former you have been poisoned! Stay away! ”
The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.
Or think of it this way…our enemies can sometimes help us more than our friends. Besides, a head-wind is better than no wind….who ever got anywhere in a dead calm? Get comfortable with being misunderstood, disparaged or ignored…the trick is to be too busy doing your work to care! Channel even negativity into your work…go on get angry, but keep your mouth shut and go do your work!
And remember, everyone suffers rejection. It’s how you deal with it that counts. The Beatles were rejected by Decca Records who said they have no future in show business. Steve Jobs was fired at 30 years old from the company HE started. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for having NO original ideas. Oprah was demoted from her job as news anchor because she wasn’t fit for television. And Albert Einstein’s grade school teachers said he’d never amount to much. If you’ve never failed you’ve never tried anything new.

Speak from the heart and be authentically YOU. Don’t copy other people. That means finding your own definition of success..
The quest to find one’s purpose and live the creative life boldly is neither simple nor easy.
The object of art is not to make salable pictures …it is to save yourself. Have an opinion and put it into your work!
Flaubert suggested being regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work!!

Stay openminded even when you’re not working. Current neuroscience research confirms what creatives intuitively know about being innovative…that it usually happens in the shower! After focusing intently on a project or problem, the brain needs to fully disengage for a Eureka moment to arise. I get many ideas when I’m running…or just before I sleep or awaken, when my brain is in the twilight zone. Trying to force an idea can actually prevent an insight. Rock star designer Stefan Sagmeister takes off a year every 5 years to just live and observe.

Be a student for life. Continually refine yourself with education. Search for the best and for the sublime. Create and reflect a culture of excellence.
Try to make the world a better place…do no harm and be ethical…Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote “there only one rule I know of..you’ve got to be kind.”
James Victore says your work is a gift. British novelist Amelia Barr advises us to go to work with a full sense of life and be determined to put hindrances out of the way. To prevail over them to finally get the mastery.
Because we all start out creative. Every child is creative. Of course after a while norms are imposed and children become self conscious. Many children stop drawing at age 10 or 12.
Make your own opportunities! Don’t just strike while the fire is hot, rather make the iron hot while striking it! (Oliver Cromwell)

Be happy….it’s the journey not the outcome.The pursuit of perfection is fruitless.…enjoy the creativity! It’s lighter than you think..have fun!
Writer and artist Austin Kleon even talks about a willingness to look stupid. And science now says that the happier we are the more we can SEE. Being slightly happy versus slightly anxious allows for people to solve more problems and be more creative. When people are happy they are more likely to notice a wider range of information than when they are anxious because they become more tunnel visioned and aren’t open to new ideas.
Paula Scher speaks of beginning every day with a capacity for growth. Eno says “Nearly all the things that I do of any merit start off as just being good fun”
PLAY!! Utilize your mistakes! Do something you’ve never done before. Henry Miller said “Keep human…see people, go places, drink if you want!!
Kurt Anderson says it is the curious, excited slightly reckless passion of the amateur that we need to nurture in our professional lives.”
After all, according to Maira Kalman….not everything will be OK but some things will

4 Responses to “7 Tips for Creative Success”

  1. Diana ZIpeto Says:

    THANK YOU. This is (in)valuable!!

  2. J.Pintocanales Says:

    Thank you so much for your tips. They’ve come at the perfect moment! Will make my best effort to keep them in mind.

  3. Sofia Lenz Says:

    It’s late but I’m curious about tip No. 5. Where did it gone? I would love to read this tip.
    Thank you

  4. anitakunz Says:

    Oooooops…..good catch! It must have evaporated…OK there are now SEVEN tips!

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